Movie Name: Star Wars—Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Release Date(s): May 19, 1999
MPAA Rating: PG
The Trade Federation has set up a blockade around the planet of Naboo, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) are attempting to negotiate a treaty. When the Trade Federation tries to assassinate the Jedi Knights, they are forced to flee to the surface of the planet and manage to escape with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and a Gungan outcast named Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). When the group is forced to land on the desert planet of Tatooine, they meet a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon realize he could be the one destined to bring balance to the Force. When a Dark Jedi named Darth Maul (Ray Park) attacks, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan realize that there could be more to the embargo than meets the eye.
Directed by George Lucas, Star Wars—Episode I: The Phantom Menace (sometimes just seen as Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace), brought Star Wars back to the theater. It was ravaged by critics and fans of the series and many felt it ruined the reputation of the original three films. Despite the reviews, it went down as a huge money maker and still makes money with plans of a 3-D release.
Despite a lot of problems, there are a lot of good things in The Phantom Menace. The opening scenes, the pod-car race, and some of the battles are quite good. The improvements in special effects and more fluid movements and choreographed fight scenes make the lightsaber battles some of the best in the series. The final fight between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul, I think might be the best in the whole series…though it could be a bit longer. The tension is high and Darth Maul is a great villain (too bad he gets wiped out in this movie).
The problem lies in (of course) Jar Jar Binks and Anakin Skywalker. Most scenes with Jake Lloyd feel like he is simply reading the script and not even trying to act or trying too hard to act. The speeches he gives like the speeches about angels really are grating and just don’t work. Jar Jar Binks is just bad all around. His dialogue is awful and his plotline is almost non-existent. If he were eliminated from the script, it would have run just as smooth…not even kids thought he was funny.
That points back to the real problem…George Lucas. The first Star Wars was kind of a dream project to him and was realized as a cultural phenomenon. He always claimed that the prequels existed, but it just seems doubtful that this is how the prequel really went. These just seem like money makers. It not only wasn’t a good movie but negated a lot of the other film…like the Force is governed by midi-chlorians? Ok, it went from being an energy source that some can learn to tap into by some bad infection what gives you psychic and telekinetic powers.
It just feels that there are too many people around him saying “That’s a good idea, George” and no one saying “wait a second, that sucks”. He says that he made the new movies for kids and not fans. The story is overly complex with the trade embargo and the plans to stop the Trade Federation…no kid is going to get that. The first movies also were made for kids, but it didn’t demean people with bad stand-up comedy. Sure R2-D2 and C-3PO provided comic relief but it was tempered with tons of action between…not some running laugh track.
Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace is an average movie. There are some really good points and nothing was more exciting than seeing “A Long Time Ago” scroll onto the screen sixteen years after Return of the Jedi. For fans waiting for the prequel they always wanted however, it was a big let down…and for better or worse, Lucas had two more sequels to try to get it right. Star Wars—Episode I: The Phantom Menace was followed by Star Wars—Episode II: Attack of the Clones in 2000.